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Free Radicals, Oxidative Stress, and Disease

We’ve talked a lot about colorful fruits and veggies. Maybe you’ve gone to the grocery store and bought a rainbow of them! Maybe you’ve even discovered a new favorite. Eating colorfully is important because of the powerful phytochemicals found in fruits and veggies. Afterall, they are packed with nutrients that help obtain and maintain optimal health. However, there’s one particular superstar substance: antioxidants. These guys are important because of their effects on free radicals.

Basically, you can think of antioxidants as little soldiers that fight off free radicals. They do a lot to keep your body healthy and strong. But… What even are free radicals?

Free Radicals – Inevitable Villains?

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Free radicals are unstable atoms floating around your body. You create them just by going through natural biological processes. For example, breathing, exercising, and even using your immune system to fight off illness. Free radicals also build up in your body due to environmental factors like exposure to smoke, UV rays, and general pollution. If free radicals are just a natural part of life though, why are they considered bad?

Balance Between Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Of course, as with everything in health, the issue is balance. Your body wouldn’t create these atoms if it didn’t need them for something. Indeed, free radicals serve as stimulants for natural body processes like the proper function of the immune system. However, when you have too many free radicals – that’s a problem. When free radicals are more than their better half, antioxidants, they lead to something called oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is the term for free radicals stealing electrons from other places. Free radicals usually have only one electron, hence their instability. However, electrons like to always have a buddy with them. As the free radicals travel around, they try to grab electrons from other important molecules. Some of these include DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids (fats). This process of stealing electrons from other molecules builds up and causes cellular damage. It can lead to aging and triggers disease.

Cons of Oxidative Stress

There are two major results of oxidative stress: aging and increased likelihood of developing a degenerative disease.

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Certainly a good skincare routine can help with the signs of aging. However, even Lancôme has its limits. After all, aging is an inevitable natural process. As you age your body loses its ability to fight off free radicals. That means they build up over time. This triggers the oxidative stress that destroys cells and is, in part, responsible for aging. The cell damage is what causes things like wrinkles, gray hair, worsening vision, etc. As you get older, this oxidative stress builds more, and is why aging accelerates later on in life.

Free Radicals and Disease

Research also shows that the damage caused to cells by oxidative stress can trigger a series of degenerative diseases such as:

  • Neurodegenerative disease like dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Cardiovascular disease caused by clogged arteries
  • Autoimmune inflammatory disorders like arthritis and cancer
  • Age-related eye disease like cataracts
  • Genetic degenerative disease like Parkinson’s

Since your body loses the ability to fight off free radicals with age, the likelihood of developing these diseases increases. However, your body does have systems in place to defend against oxidative stress and its consequences.

Free Radical Heroes

While free radicals are part of life, your body does fight them off as best it can. It does this by creating physical barriers to them, and making neutralizing enzymes. Furthermore, your body sends out antioxidants to stabilize free radicals, and repair the damage already done to cells. The most commonly talked about of these defense mechanisms are antioxidants.

Not to mention, antioxidants also fight off free radicals by helping to stabilize them. These molecules give an unstable free radical an extra electron, thus neutralizing its damaging effects. Antioxidants are sturdy molecules. They are very stable themselves, so they can offer up an electron without falling out of whack. In this way, antioxidants serve as heroes against oxidative stress!

How Can I Help Free Radical Damage?

While it may be true that free radicals are inevitable, nutrition can be a powerful defense. There are two things you can do to help relieve oxidative stress. First of all, avoid free radical causing foods and situations. Secondly, consume more antioxidants as part of a healthy diet.

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Say Not To Free Radicals

Indeed, free radicals occur naturally in the body. However, there are some things you can avoid in order to minimize their production. This includes avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides and air pollution. Smoking and alcohol consumption has also shown to increase free radical production. Finally, fried foods tend to have compounds that can affect free radical levels like toxic oils. There are other lifestyle choices you can employ to help too. For example, relieving day to day stress, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise!

Upgrade Your Nutrition

Furthermore, many foods come packed with important antioxidants that do different things. This is why variety is key. You’ll want to keep your colors in mind! Just a few foods that are rich in antioxidants include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Pecans
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Artichokes
  • Goji berries
  • Raspberries
  • Kale
  • Red cabbage
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Spinach

In particular, some of the most important antioxidants that your body does not make are vitamin E, vitamin C and B (beta) – carotene. You can find these particular antioxidants in the following foods.

Foods Rich in Vitamin E

  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Red bell pepper
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Avocado

Foods Rich in Vitamin C

  • Citrus fruits
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Potatoes

Foods Rich in B-Carotene

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cantaloupe
  • Apricots

To conclude, free radical levels increase with age. However, taking care of yourself through lifestyle choices and powerful nutrition can help slow and delay that process! Plus, mitigating the effects of oxidative stress means decreased risk of developing diseases triggered by unhealthy damaged cells.

FK Against Free Radicals!

Of course, we understand it can be difficult to plan out your nutrition to include all sorts of delicious foods, nutrients, and variety. Hence why we offer to do it for you! If you’re looking to upgrade your nutrition, we are here to help!

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At Fran’s Kitchen we offer three customizable online meal plans designed to provide optimal nutrition through delicious food! The three available FK Online Meal Plans are:

  • Keto
  • Vegan
  • Metabolic

We Make It Easy

You can choose whichever path you’d like towards your improved nutrition! After you choose your diet type, you’ll take a survey asking about your current health and your goals. We take all this information and send you an email with a personalized version of your online meal plan. In this email you’ll find an in-depth meal prep guide including all the meals you’ll be making, plus their nutritional breakdown. Of course, we’ll tell you how to make and store them. As a little gift, we even throw in a shopping list for every week! You’ll know exactly what you’re getting in every meal. You’ll feel the transformative power of wholesome, healthy, nutrition-packed food. The best part? All it takes is a couple hours a week and you can do it all from the comfort of your kitchen!

Optimizing your health doesn’t have to be complicated, frustrating, or impossible. Our goal at FK is to help you build the nutrition you need to live the life you deserve: one of health and wellness.

Cheers,

Fran

NOTE: Fran’s Kitchen offers two different meal plan services. Our Delivery Meal Plans are delivered to customers on an agreed upon schedule. Our ONLINE MEAL PLANS are NOT delivered. These online meal plans are sent to customers via email to be cooked, followed, and enjoyed from the comfort of their own kitchens! Please be mindful of these differences when registering for Fran’s Kitchen services. Thank you!

Sources

12 Healthy Foods High in Antioxidants 

Beta-Carotene Supplements for Vision and Osteoarthritis

Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health

Oxidative Stress – What is it? 

Vitamin E | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Vitamins and minerals – Vitamin C

Understanding antioxidants – Harvard Health – Harvard Health 

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